President Xi is visiting the U.K. this week. There are pageantry … and some $60 Billion US worth of deals. British Prime Minister has made a big commotion calling it as the “Partner of Choice” in the West for China.
I am sure the British Leadership, Cameron personally, believes that it is in the long-term interest of Britain to mend relationship with China. But I don’t believe Britain is really a “Partner of Choice.” It may be a “Partner of Convenience,” but I believe it still cares little for – has little respect for – China … except to make a buck.
An important thing I noticed is the difference in media coverage of the trip from Britian and China. From China, the trip is given deference, respect, and honor. There is a sense – a hope – that the China and U.K. is really about to do something fundamentally different … a belief that U.K. is a “Partner of Choice” to bring the West and China closer together. But from the Britain side, we see either no coverage … or an article here or there about closer relationship being a mistake … or the relationship is just about the bottom line.
You can see for yourself.
Here is a screenshot of Xinhua’s home page today. Not only is Xi’s visit front and center, but in the picture/story slider area, of the 10 stories, the top 6 (1-6) are all related to the visit. (Slide 2 | Slide 3 | Slide 4 | Slide 5 | Slide 6)
Compare that with say:
- Screenshot of BBC.
- Screenshot of the Guardian.
- Screenshot of the Independent.
- Screenshot of Financial Times.
You get my gist.
Besides coverage, there is also Prince Charles’ snub of President Xi by not attending the state dinner in Xi’s honor. Prince Charles left some bad taste with PRC with the way he handled the turnover of Hong Kong to PRC. Prince Charles is also known as a huge Dalai Lama supporter. So the fact that he cannot bring himself to honor Xi properly and turn the page on the recent raucous history of U.K.-China relations is an additional testament that Britain is not quite ready to turn the the corner and raise the relationship.
It was nice that U.K. allowed Xi to address its parliament (an honor the U.S. could not muster for Xi in his visit last month). It was nice that its guards even marched to orders given in Mandarin. It was nice that U.K. was the first European power to join the AIIB (although I didn’t think China needed it as bad as Western press made it out to be). But in the end, all the pageantry seems contrived … even strained.
There is still a way to go for U.K. to be a “Partner of Choice” for China. Beggars (i.e. China) can’t be choosers I guess. The West as a whole still disdains China today. But since “a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,” I suppose it has to start somewhere.
I personally won’t hold my breath if the U.K. dis China very soon again. After all, the same euphoria about cooperation exited in China in 2011, too. And we all know what happened next.